The Gamble

OK, so Argentinians love their Casinos. Some of the grandest buildings in Mendoza are casinos, their interiors gilded with mock-brass metal. They’re popular places to be for the upper middle aged, working middle class – possibly because they’re quite secure and therefore feel quite safe…

casino

Take your pick

There’s a number of them around. I’ve so far visited two – one in the centre and one just off a shopping mall towards Godoy Cruz. I’ve not witnessed what I saw in Vegas with people pouring what seemed like all their money into a machine – a lot of the machines here will allow you to play for $2 AR per spin which is about 10p (13/2/17, 16:51). I don’t know whether the cocktail of complimentary Champagne and passage of time has convinced me that in one of the Vegas’ casinos I could’ve sworn that I saw a phone-booth that encouraged you to phone to credit card provider for an advance or extension of available funds… For the sake of this blog, lets just say that I did see this. Well, I’ve seen nothing like that here… yet.

However, there is something always counting against you. And it’s bigger than any gamble than you could possibly make…

when-the-fun-stops-stop

Argentina’s currency – the fun never stops.

If, in the UK we slap ‘gamble aware’ logos and slogans over every form of bet-promoting poster then the Argentine Banco Nacion should carry similar warnings. Casinos seem like the responsible way to use your paycheque when inflation is running at 30%. The real challenge is to claim your winnings from the machine and spend it before its only use is as rather thin, rather slim, pieces of toilet paper. (It is known).

inflation

The real gamble is trying to save money

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Paper napkins

Sorry guys a boring one here. What? You think every sight, sound, taste and experience of Argentina is memorable? Well, yes most of it is – but sometimes for the wrong reasons. Quite a lot of stuff out here is shit. I’ll soon be writing blogs relating to public administration and toilets (oh my god THE TOILETS) but this little piece of blog-roll pays homage to the humble napkin, serviette or whatever you’d like to call it. They call it servilleta.

Argentine food is such that it requires eating with your hands. Most street food is cased in bread to prevent all the fat, chimichurri and vacio marinating your t shirt. If you attempt to eat these lomos or choripans in the street with cutlery you’ll probably end up being mugged forcing you to demonstrate your self-defense skills with a plastic knife and fork.

So your hands and face get covered in grease. It’s a small price to pay having eaten something tasty. You could lick your fingers, but I am British so I’d imagine myself looking too suggestive to those onlookers. I could wipe my mouth in my sleeve, but I am British and my mother would not be too happy. Additionally it is so hot, no one wears sleeves. So, it comes down to using what is essentially tracing paper. Tiny pieces of tracing paper.

I remember as a kid wanting to trace stuff to help draw a Transformer from a comic. My grandmother would often give me some grease-proof paper to perform this task. Results were decent, too. Napkins that could achieve the same effect as grease-proof paper. Trying to absorb grease from your hands with something designed to repel grease is a losing battle. Just keep wiping. And wiping.

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Three napkins down and my hands are still greasier than a can of WD40

OK, so I’m being petulant. And really, if I was to complain about stuff over here there are more worthwhile causes for me to launch my vitriol at. I guess coming from a background of food safety I require something a little more… safe for food.

But fuck it tastes good and I’d rather worry about the toilets than this.

The Local Derby / El Clasico

Some strange fever seemed to have enveloped the house. 33.33% of the inhabitants had been struck down with elevated levels of excitement. The following 33.33% were not too concerned about this malaise and the final 33.33% are dogs – half of these dogs (Tungui) is always excited so it was difficult to diagnose any problem with her.

Tonight was the night. Alberto’s beloved minnows; Deportivo Maipu were set to take on the mighty Godoy Cruz of national 1st Division fame. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to see Argentina vs Colombia in San Juan in November and loved the relentless atmosphere and the warmth (all of the UK matches I’ve been to tend to have been a woolly hat and scarf affair) and so this seemed to offer a unique derby experience.

Two years ago I accompanied a proud Alberto to a very informal, 25- minute-each-way, pre-season friendly. Although hardly a sell out crowd, the noise was amazing. Drums, trumpets, singing… It was like how football crowds always sounded on on 1990s computer games – relentless noise.

So the t-shirt is ironed and we’re ready to go. Match report to follow 🙂

In the car I worried a little. Here we were, on our way to a local derby, kick-off less than an hour away and we didn’t have a ticket. Jime had decided not to come with us so it was her dad, her cousin and me together in the camioneta bouncing along the potholed road to Maipu. When attempting to speak Spanish the words fall out of my mouth like an egg into a frying pan. Ers, ars and every vowel sound sizzle into the air before I attempt to scramble them into the form of words, sentences and if I’m lucky; communication. Well, whatever conversation we had ate up the clock on the way to the stadium.

So I was worried that we would be too late to get tickets, it was El Classico after all and I learned that it was the semi final too. Alberto laughed. It emerges that this tournament, La Copa Vendemia was a Mendoza cup, every game was essentially a local derby. Not only that but it was not really a semi final per se, as there were only four teams on the competition. My worries shifted towards this match being a non-event, a real damp squib. We approached the area around the ground. Godoy Cruz fans filled the streets. There were almost as many of them as there were armed police. Although I was assured that the huge weapons being carried were loaded with rubber bullets. Strange that the thought of missing out on the match worried me more than this.

armed-police

Is it meant to make you feel safer?

Anyway, we parked up near the ground and refused to pay a local guy to watch over our car. This had happened before and I thought we were being a little harsh. But actually, the unofficial rules for this practice are to pay on return to the vehicle for the service of it having been watched over. These informal car-watchers have a tendency to take your money and then move on somewhere else leaving your car unattended.

We walked briefly to the stadium, bought our tickets before being patted through a corridor of police officers who didn’t seem to be attempting to find anything at all.

We took a seat bang on the halfway line. Behind the fence. It’s unavoidable to sit behind a fence in a south American stadium it would seem. If your view isn’t obscured with a 20ft chain link fence then it’s probably because you’ve decided to climb it and watch the match swinging like a a GIF file pole vaulter… Ebbing 45° towards the pitch and then flowing 45 ° back towards the stand.

Suddenly, a gun shot.

Or so I thought. It turns out that the police-wedding-hands-tunnel pat-down I’d been subjected to when entering wouldn’t have prevented me from bringing in fireworks. I’m not talking about your 5th November sparklers and Tesco Finest Catherine Wheels, I’m taking about big, black, metal instruments of mass celebration.

I could see a guy in the Godoy Cruz end with a crate send multiple rockets straight into the evening sky. The Maipu fans duly responded with their own show of force.

botollera

Crazy sounds and scenes coming from the fans and the match hadn’t started. I’m not gonna talk too much about the game only to say that this is how events unfolded:

Godoy Cruz awarded penalty – Maipu keeper saves it.

Godoy Cruz score. 1 – 0 to the visitors.

Brief pause in match as police enter the pitch to face a section of the Godoy Cruz fans. Not really sure what was going on. But without any rubber bullets going off the match resumes.

Maipu pull one back in second half. We were heading for a 1 – 1 draw which meant straight to penalties.

And penalties it was.

Unbelievably A mixture of fine saves and terrible shots mean that Maipu won 3-0 on penalties.

My man of the match; the Maipu goal keeper. Cue insane noise from home fans. Meanwhile, the Godoy Cruz fans continue to sing too. None of that “only sing when you’re winning” nonsense.

Well, that was a game and a half. If I could sum the match day experience up in one word it’d be ‘carnival’.

And I love a carnival.